TURAN IN WEST AFRICA.

This Language Log post (by Mark Liberman) contains a bit of information in the Update that made me sit up and take notice. David Eddyshaw is quoted as writing: “The actual words for ‘white man’ [in West Africa] are interesting… In Hausa, it’s Batuure, apparently via a long chain of subtle shifts of meaning from Turan ‘not-Iran’.” (I’ve changed his quotes to itals for clarity.) Years ago, when I was delving into African history and culture, I picked up a book called Munyakare: African Civilization Before the Batuuree, by Richard W. Hull. For a long time I wondered what that “Batuuree” was; eventually I learned it was Hausa (singular Batūrē, high pitch on the -tū-; plural Tūrāwā, high pitch on the -wā), but I still wondered about the etymology. Now, assuming Eddyshaw is correct (anybody know anything about this etymology?), I know, and it’s quite astonishing.
Turan is an ancient Iranian term that has had various overlapping and occasionally contradictory senses (inhabitants of Central Asia, Turks, enemies of the Iranians, etc.); C. E. Bosworth says, in his section of the Encyclopædia Iranica article on Central Asia, “In early Islamic times Persians tended to identify all the lands to the northeast of Khorasan and lying beyond the Oxus with the region of Turan… The denizens of Turan were held to include the Turks…, and behind them the Chinese… Turan thus became both an ethnic and a geographical term, but always containing ambiguities and contradictions, arising from the fact that all through Islamic times the lands immediately beyond the Oxus and along its lower reaches were the homes not of Turks but of Iranian peoples, such as the Sogdians and Khwarezmians.” I don’t know how it got to West Africa and Hausa—there can’t have been many Persian speakers in the area—but it’s an impressive peregrination.
(This post should bring a smile to John Emerson, great aficionado of farflung cultural connections that he is.)

Comments

  1. Leo Caesius says:

    I have to say I’m suspicious. Ibn Battuta mentions a similar name in his travels: “After a distance of ten days’ travel from Iwalatan, we arrived at the village of Zaghari, which is a big place with black merchants living in it. They are called Wanjarata, and there live with them a group of white men who follow the sect of the Ibadi from amongst the Kharijites. They are called Saghanagu. The Sunni maliki among the white men in that country are called Turi.” One of the leading clans on the middle Niger is also named Touré (a common surname in West Africa), and apparently they’re of Berber or Arab origin.
    I note that Henry Barth seems to think it comes from Fulfulde tura “to pray,” on the basis of this passage. That seems a bit of a stretch. But Turan? It seems really farfetched to me. Then again, the Arabic term Majūs – or Magian, after the celebrated Magi of Iran – eventually became a generic term for any pagan tribe whom the Muslims encountered, from the Vikings to subsaharan Africans. This term survives even today in the name of the Maguzawa in northern Nigeria.

  2. WEST Africa, yeah, seems like it could be a stretch. But there is a lot of Persian in Swahili–any possibility of borrowing/shift-of-meaning from there?

  3. This term survives even today in the name of the Maguzawa in northern Nigeria.
    True, but there are actual speakers of Arabic in Nigeria, so the connection is not that farfetched. Whereas, as languagehat points out, there are not that many Persian speakers in West Africa.

  4. John Emerson says:

    I sit with bated breath, but cannot help.
    I can only note, off-topic except that Ibn Battuta was mentioned, that when he speaks of Arabs in what I’ve read in Gibbs translation, he’s always (IIRC: usually? often?) speaking of bandits.
    And then there’s “Tajik”….

  5. John Emerson says:

    I sit with bated breath, but cannot help.
    I can only note, off-topic except that Ibn Battuta was mentioned, that when he speaks of Arabs in what I’ve read in Gibbs translation, he’s always (IIRC: usually? often?) speaking of bandits.
    And then there’s “Tajik”….

  6. I think I’ve also seen طورى ‘wild’ (Lane) proposed.

  7. Oh, and here‘s the passage where Ibn-Battuta mentions the تورى and here‘s the note in Barth that Leo Caesius mentions above citing it.

  8. As you know, “Turanian” movements and rhetoric were rarely taken very seriously as a political view except among some very rabid Magyar right wingers and similarly quackoid Turkish nationalists. The hieght of the Turanian movement was during the 1930s, although the ideas were revived in Hungary by right-wing publications after 1990 and continue today.
    As far as Hausa having a long history of awareness of the European world, remember that the Sahara wasn’t always a giant sea of sand, and that Rome used to extend deep into to a very fertile Libya. The Hausa word for paper is “kaarta”, which comes from Latin, probably from pre-Lingua Franca contact. At least that was what Doug Pulleyblank used to teach us in African linguistics seminars back in the 70s.

  9. I love the word “quackoid” and will probably steal it.
    Also, sure there was lots of cross-Sahara contact, even after it became a sea of sand. But there aren’t Persian speakers on the other side of the Sahara, or in Europe either.
    I agree the Turan thing seems like a stretch, and if I’d seen it on WackyWords.com [I just made that up, and I'm not going to see if it's real because I don't want to know] I’d have ignored it. But I take seriously etymologies offered on the Log.

  10. John Emerson says:

    Another unexpected borrowing is the Mongol word for “sutra”: nom (from the Greek nomos). The Mongols were Christians before they were Buddhists. Their Christianity probably traces back to Syrian Nestorians who took refuge in the Persian Empire after being excommunicated by the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD., and then fled Persia after the Muslim conquest of Persia. The Mongol alphabet is traces to the Syriac alphabet via old Uighur script.
    It should be added that nom means not only “sutra”, but also “scripture” generally, and also simply “book”.

  11. John Emerson says:

    Another unexpected borrowing is the Mongol word for “sutra”: nom (from the Greek nomos). The Mongols were Christians before they were Buddhists. Their Christianity probably traces back to Syrian Nestorians who took refuge in the Persian Empire after being excommunicated by the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD., and then fled Persia after the Muslim conquest of Persia. The Mongol alphabet is traces to the Syriac alphabet via old Uighur script.
    It should be added that nom means not only “sutra”, but also “scripture” generally, and also simply “book”.

  12. Man, I love that stuff.

  13. John Emerson says:

    Bonus: These Syrian Christians reached China in the seventh century and left an rather lengthy inscribed stele there. Their word for “God” was ilahu, cognate with Allah and Elohim. Christianity probably remained a foreign religion in China; in any case it did not survive the T’ang dynasty there (though it did in Central Asia).
    The same Persian diaspora brought the Manichaeans to China and central Asia, where they survived until the Mongol era; Marco Polo may have met some of them, but thought they were Christians. the Central Asian Manichaeans wrote in Persian, Sogdian, and Turkish.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nestorian_Stele
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nestorian_Stele
    Klimkeit: Gnosis on the Silk Road

  14. John Emerson says:

    Bonus: These Syrian Christians reached China in the seventh century and left an rather lengthy inscribed stele there. Their word for “God” was ilahu, cognate with Allah and Elohim. Christianity probably remained a foreign religion in China; in any case it did not survive the T’ang dynasty there (though it did in Central Asia).
    The same Persian diaspora brought the Manichaeans to China and central Asia, where they survived until the Mongol era; Marco Polo may have met some of them, but thought they were Christians. the Central Asian Manichaeans wrote in Persian, Sogdian, and Turkish.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nestorian_Stele
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nestorian_Stele
    Klimkeit: Gnosis on the Silk Road

  15. John Emerson says:
  16. John Emerson says:
  17. David Marjanović says:

    Rome used to extend deep into to a very fertile Libya.

    “Very fertile” is a fairly big exaggeration, but yes, the Romans were aware that the world didn’t end right behind the coast.

    The Mongols were Christians before they were Buddhists.

    I bet that very few of them ever were.
    BTW, the Orkhon runes can probably be traced to the Sogdian alphabet.

    T’ang

    Do historians still use Wade-Giles?

  18. Zaelic:
    You learn something new every day. I had no idea Hausa contained early Latin loans. I’m a little puzzled though: I have some knowledge of early Latin loans in Berber, and cannot recall anything like Hausa KAARTA in Berber; I’m wondering whether it might have been replaced by an Arabic loan (there is indirect but suggestive evidence that many Arabic loans into Berber replaced earlier Latin loans), or whether KAARTA in Hausa was borrowed at a much later date (from early European travellers or missionaries perhaps?). Any other suspected early Latin loans in Hausa? And did Doug Pulleyblank ever publish anything on the topic?

  19. komfo,amonan says:

    I find myself vexed. Eddyshaw gives neither source nor details for his farfetched etymology. Liberman seems to trust him. I tend to trust Liberman. But I find myself not trusting Eddyshaw. Also, does Turan really mean “not Iran”?

  20. Liberman seems to trust him. I tend to trust Liberman. But I find myself not trusting Eddyshaw.
    Yeah, I know what you mean.
    Also, does Turan really mean “not Iran”?
    Well, it’s complicated, but that’s one way it’s used. The Iran-versus-Turan theme is an old one in Persian literature.

  21. John Emerson says:

    There were significant numbers of Christians among the Mongols, not “very few”, but before Buddhism the Mongols did not have an official or generally-practiced religion, and individual Mongols could dabble in more than one. Genghis Khan’s daughter was a devout scripture reading Christian who also led military units after she was widowed. One of Genghis’s descendants, George, was converted to Catholicism from Nestorianism by a missionary, but by and large the missionaries accomplished very little.

  22. John Emerson says:

    There were significant numbers of Christians among the Mongols, not “very few”, but before Buddhism the Mongols did not have an official or generally-practiced religion, and individual Mongols could dabble in more than one. Genghis Khan’s daughter was a devout scripture reading Christian who also led military units after she was widowed. One of Genghis’s descendants, George, was converted to Catholicism from Nestorianism by a missionary, but by and large the missionaries accomplished very little.

  23. John Emerson says:

    I haven’t studied Chinese much in 15-20 years and I often revert to Wade-Giles. But sometimes I use it when it’s completely unambiguous.

  24. John Emerson says:

    I haven’t studied Chinese much in 15-20 years and I often revert to Wade-Giles. But sometimes I use it when it’s completely unambiguous.

  25. Leo Caesius says:

    John Emerson: That’s very interesting, as I would have expected something closer to nāmōsā, which is the Syriac form of the Greek word nomos. The use of the same word to mean “the Law” (namely) “the Torah” is attested even in Judaean Aramaic (in which it takes the form nymwsʾ). I would imagine that’s how it was extended to encompass other books and scriptures as well. The Syriac word for God is actually ʾelāhā, which is directly cognate with the Arabic word ʾilāh-, “god” (used primarily in contrast to ʾAllāh, i.e. to denote false gods).
    komfo,amonan: In Pahlavi, at least, the term for not-Iran is actually Anērān, as in the phrase Ērān ud Anērān “Iran and Non-Iran,” part of the titulature of the Sasanid king.

  26. I’m studying numbers (in Austronesian) but also looking out for loans between other languages. We all know Swahili (East African lingua franca) borrowed number terms from Arabic, but I was surprised to learn that the Hausa did, too.
    All their numbers, over 10, come directly from Arabic – 20=àshìrin, 30=tàlàtin, 50=”hàmsin, etc but in the case of 50 some still use the basic ‘Nigerian’ gomiyà biyar (10 5s).
    Just shows how easy it is for ‘superior’ traders to set their own terms of trade.
    regards
    Richard
    .

  27. marie-lucie says:

    The Syriac word for God is actually ʾelāhā, which is directly cognate with the Arabic word ʾilāh-, “god” (used primarily in contrast to ʾAllāh, i.e. to denote false gods)
    So that must be the cognate of Hebrew Elohim, the puzzling plural form for the single god.

  28. “So that must be the cognate of Hebrew Elohim, the puzzling plural form for the single god.”
    Is there no chance that it’s an editorial/royal plural, a plural of majesty along the lines of “we are not amused”?

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